• Liliana Sanchez and family in 1988 boarding their flight from Chile to Australia (Supplied)Source: Supplied
I remember looking at my bedroom wall. It still had bullet holes from that last winter in 1987, when one night like many others, the military had been firing rounds on our street.
By
Liliana Sanchez

Source:
SBS Voices
22 Jun 2020 - 4:25 PM  UPDATED 1 Jul 2020 - 11:14 AM

In the summer of 1988, I was four years old. I remember the hot summer’s day clearly. I was playing outside with a hose, my favourite thing to do, when a man came to our house in Santiago, Chile. He took photos of my family and me. I knew it was important, but I didn’t know that this photo was going to be part of an application for the Australian embassy to assess our claim for humanitarian entry to Australia.

Looking back at the 30-page application my parents had submitted – some handwritten notes and some letters from the human rights commission in Chile – you could understand the severity of the situation that we had been trying to leave behind us. At that point Chile was under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, and had been since 1973.

Unfortunately my father was taken days before the planned protest. He became a political prisoner, taken by five members of the military, when I was only a week old.

My parents were freedom fighters during that time. They were part of the group organising what was one of the largest protests in Chile, a catalyst for the citizens to demand change and to take to the streets on a more regular basis. Unfortunately my father was taken days before the planned protest. He became a political prisoner, taken by five members of the military, when I was only a week old. He was considered dangerous because he had received previous military training. My father was sentenced to four years in prison.

My mother became our sole carer. She had to be strong, not just for my brother and I, but because she was also part of a women’s group that supported others who had lost their husbands, sons and family members to the dictatorship. She was always out protesting to demand justice during this brutal regime. She even managed to study the law and was eventually successful in demanding the release of my father after he served three years of a four-year sentence. She then single-handedly initiated the release of other political prisoners.

Upon his release however, my father was not safe from violent interrogations and torture and our family was also in danger. We had to find other ways to survive and seek safety.

Upon his release however, my father was not safe from violent interrogations and torture and our family was also in danger. We had to find other ways to survive and seek safety.

When the telegraph arrived telling my parents it was time to leave Chile in May 1988, my parents knew they had to move quickly. We had a small amount of time to sort out our belongings and say goodbye to our family. My parents opened the house for all our neighbours to come and take things. The neighbours kept saying to my mum ‘we just want to keep a memory of you’. She had grown up in the same street in the same poblacion (suburb) since she was five.

One of my strongest memories of that time is taking my toy box outside and watching all the children from la poblacion taking our toys. I knew I couldn’t take anything with me to my new country and so I just watched as all the kids from the street left with something new.

When the house was finally empty, I remember looking at my bedroom wall. It still had bullet holes from that last winter in 1987, when one night like many others, the military had been firing rounds on our street. We always remember that one night though, because the bullets only just missed my brother’s head when he was sleeping. 

I remember at the airport our entire family had come to bid us farewell. We said goodbye like we would never see them again.

I remember at the airport our entire family had come to bid us farewell. We said goodbye like we would never see them again.

We travelled through, Easter Island, Papeete, Sydney Australia. When we arrived to Sydney no one told us where we would go next, we just had to follow the group. There were about 20 or so other families in the same situation as us. After waiting half a day at the airport we got on our last flight to Melbourne.

The hostel was set up as the first accommodation for new arrivals from a refugee background. 

In Melbourne we were taken to a hostel – Enterprise Hostel in Springvale Victoria. The hostel was set up as the first accommodation for new arrivals from a refugee background. There were people there from all places around the world. People from Vietnam, Cambodia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Argentina, Croatia, Russia. We knew we were finally safe.

My parents started intensive English classes and my brothers went to school. I was too little, so Mum had to leave me at the hostel's childcare. None of the kids spoke a word of English, including me. We would just smile and laugh and run and play as children do. There was no need for language.

My father soon was offered a course in welding and he took it right away. He studied at Footscray TAFE so we had to relocate. Dad studied and worked during the day and mum learned English and got her first job as a cleaner for a law firm during the night.

When I ask my mum now what was I like back then she always says two things: “Liliana you were so angry, you wanted to be like the boys, going to school, and I had to keep telling you you’re too little you cant go yet, you have to wait!” The second is that I missed my grandmother. “You cried for her every day if not every second day,” my mother always tells me. I was really close to my grandmother in Chile, she was the one who took care of me when my mother was out protesting and fighting for my fathers freedom. I was named after her, Liliana.

 

Liliana Sanchez is a Storyteller and Writer who draws on her lived experience to help shift perceptions and narratives on topics of Refugees and Asylum Seekers . Find her on Instagram

 Who Gets to Stay in Australia? airs over four weeks starting Wednesday 1 July at 8.30pm on SBS and On Demand. Join the conversation #WGTSIA

Who Gets To Stay in Australia? will be subtitled in simplified Chinese and Arabic and will be added to the subtitled collection on SBS On Demand, available immediately after its premiere.

For information about settlement in Australia, in your language, visit sbs.com.au/settlementguide